What better opportunity to shake things up than Pentecost? Create a sense of the wonder, awe and joy in your worship. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was unexpected and unprecedented. It literally shook the house. Celebrate the awesome gift of the Holy Spirit by taking worship to new heights.
Inspire and unify
Get creative. Pentecost is a perfect day to try something new. Incorporate different instruments and various languages into this week’s music. Make the most of candlelight—or use firepits for outdoor worship. Evoke the senses with special sights and sounds to illuminate the power of Holy Spirit. Providing a tongue of fire party hat for each member of your congregation makes a big and memorable impact at a low cost. Imagine the delight you’ll inspire, making inner flames glow all the brighter! On a deeper level, it creates an instant atmosphere of unity in the Spirit—whether participants are in the pews, the parking lot or online.
Walk by the Spirit
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). (insert period) Encourage your community in walking the walk with fruitful “party favors.” Give away bookmarks as a keepsake of the Holy Spirit inspiring, renewing and restoring us daily. Bulletin inserts can offer at-home reflection on the ways the Spirit guides us to live out our faith. For fun, Spirit-building Pentecost party outreach events, consider a “walk by the Spirit” 5K walk/run, a drive-through “tongues of fire” barbeque dinner or a “fan the flame” bonfire, offered on site or encouraged to have at home with family or friends.
Exult in the gifts
In word or song, pray a joyous litany with the congregation or church groups or classes. Explore the creative resources available for teaching the fruits of the Spirit. Sunday school classes can make tongues of fire mobiles while these cards help teens learn to live in step with the Spirit. Rejoice in the divine power of the Spirit that sets our hearts and minds ablaze with love, joy, goodness and peace. In the pews or the parking lot, welcome the Holy Spirit into the world and into our hearts with a party of praise!
Here we are in the midst of what the Church calls Holy Week, commemorating the last week of our Lord’s life on earth. Waving palms in the Palm Sunday parade as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time reminds us that Jesus is the King of our lives and a King that is headed toward the throne of the cross. Walking up the stairs to the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, we prepare to taste and see in bread and wine, his body and blood, that he is loving and forgiving beyond measure. On Good Friday, we witness the cruel death of a Savior, a death that should have been ours. But on Easter we receive a life from our risen Lord that shouldn’t be ours at all, but is ours forevermore because of him.
This particular week may be called holy, but the fact is that all our weeks are holy and blessed by our Lord and Savior and each week of our lives should contain elements of Holy Week itself. Each week should begin with praise to our King through word and song and worship. Each week we should confess our sins and be filled with forgiveness from Jesus that we then pass on to others. Our eyes should look to the cross each week and remember the sacrifice of our Savior for our sake. And every week we should recall the new life we are given every day because of Christ’s resurrection.
When we look at each week as holy, what a blessing each week becomes for us and what a focus our lives can take in Christ.
The Ash Wednesday Scripture readings take on a whole new meaning this year as we think about the parishioners we haven’t seen in months.
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart. –Joel 2:12
Sadly, we know that for every parishioner who’s livestreaming church at home or participating in online faith formation, there are others who, for one reason or another, have walked away from regular worship. In fact, recent studies indicate that nearly one in three practicing Christians hasn’t attended church—online, in person or in a parking lot—in the months since the pandemic began. They’ve essentially dropped out. So, how can we bring them back?
It’s not an easy question to answer. In this two-part series, we’ve collected some ideas to help you reach out, even if you’re short on staff or funds. Not every suggestion will work for every parish, but we hope they give you something to think about—or maybe they’ll spark other ideas. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below.
Connect the old-fashioned way
Remember phone trees? They might feel outdated in the digital age, but many parishes are adapting a form of them during COVID-19 by having staff or volunteers check in with folks over the phone. If you don’t have the time or staff, why not put some of your parish ministries or small groups on the task? Simply provide names and numbers for a set number of registered parishioners to these trusted volunteers. You’re not asking callers to solve people’s problems, but simply to provide a listening ear and a human connection to the parish community. Callers might ask some simple questions like: “How are you doing? What’s going on in your life? How can we pray for you? Do you need anything from the parish?” This can make a great Lenten outreach project for families or single people, but don’t give out phone numbers to just anyone. You’ll need carefully screened volunteers or parish staff for this.
Refocus each day
With everything going on in the world, folks need something uplifting to focus on every single day. Why not give a gift of inspirational reading for each day of Lent? You might invite people to ponder “the boundless love of Christ” through the readings of the great spiritual master Henri Nouwen, or offer reflections on Lenten Scripture readings to “illuminate the darkness with God’s saving light.” Then provide a digital forum for folks to share their own thoughts about the readings. You can simply include a place for comments on your parish website or social media platform, or invite people to an online meeting to talk about it.
Help people serve others online
You might have families or individuals connect with seniors in assisted living communities to read one short devotion per day or week to them remotely. Or tech-savvy grandparents in your parish might read kid-friendly devotions online to families with small children in your faith formation program. It only takes a few minutes each day, but it can have a big impact for everyone involved.
Even smaller small groups
Small groups can take a lot of logistics to organize, and you may already have several in your parish. But don’t overlook the power of smaller, informal groups of people with common interests or issues who connect with each other in prayer. They might be parents whose kids were baptized last year, adults who were baptized recently, or people caring for elderly or ill family members. Don’t worry about organizing online meetings—these groups can simply connect by text or email, sharing their prayer intentions and promising to pray for each other. For instance, I have two sons. I began an email group called Praying for our Sons with other parents in the parish. I send out an email once a week to remind everyone to set aside some time to pray for our guys. Parents might ask for extra prayers when their sons are applying to college, getting married, or simply going through tough times. If you’d like to encourage groups like this at your parish, you might remind people to connect each week with a greeting card or other small token, like the “do small things with great love” pocket coin. Informal prayer groups like these are great ways to partner with your people as they evangelize within their own circles of influence.
More ideas? Share them here!
Next week: Reaching out to people in online ministries.
Connie Clark is the editor of Living Faith Kids and the author of numerous books and booklets for educators, families, and children.
In nature, there is a phenomenon known as imprinting, in which a young animal narrows its social preferences to an object (typically a parent) as a result of exposure to that object. It is most obvious in chickens and geese who imprint on their parents and then follow them around. Scientists discovered in experiments, though, that geese often imprinted simply on the first moving stimulus of any kind they saw within what is called a “critical period” between 13 and 16 hours shortly after hatching. This led to funny images of goslings waddling behind a human being or a box covering a model train circling around a track.
By the working of the Holy Spirit in us through our baptisms, we as Christians have imprinted on our Savior, following him wherever he goes. Our path in life mirrors his as we go about preaching, teaching, praying, loving and caring as he did. This is part of what we are to be as his disciples. As it says in Scriptures, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).
But there are times when we lose our way and imprint on other people in our lives (family, friends, co-workers) and follow them exclusively. That can be a recipe for disaster since humans are fallible, of course, and can steer us in the wrong direction at some point. We can also imprint on inanimate objects in our lives (cars, homes, work, computers, television, hobbies and pastimes) and follow wherever they lead us. So often spending time with inanimate objects for too long can make them our gods and we cannot free ourselves of their pull.
Take some time today to imprint on your Savior by reading his Word and moving your hands and feet in an echo of his. The more we are exposed to him, the more we imprint on him. All other imprints should not dominate or exist. Follow Jesus only and always look to him in every critical period you face.
One of the buzzwords that has come out of this time of the pandemic is the word pivot. It is used to describe how we change and adjust our ways, maybe on a moment’s notice, to get a task completed. We have pivoted by working from home instead of in the office. We have pivoted by holding meetings on Zoom or other video platforms instead of having meetings in-person. We have pivoted by doing work online instead of with paper and pencil.
The idea of pivoting reminds me of this verse from St. Paul who said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12). Paul learned to pivot in whatever situation he found himself in. And he learned to be content in whatever place he pivoted to.
That is our call, too, especially in our pivoting in our spiritual lives. God calls us to be content in our pivoting in worshipping online, in wearing masks in church, in having Bible studies on Zoom. God is still at work in every pivot and adjustment and we are still fed by the Word of God in however it is transferred to us.
Jesus, too, pivoted in his ministry, preaching from a boat when the crowds got too large, meeting with Nicodemus at night and talking up to Zacchaeus in a tree. We have opportunities every day to pivot to spread the Word of God. All we need to do is be ready for the moments and be happy with the experiences, however unorthodox they may seem.
Among the many adjustments that had to be made for so many who are working from home during the pandemic is the new-found work spaces that had to be created. Many were forced to set up shop in the dining room or kitchen of their homes, which often have led to distractions and having to share space with others. Some were relegated to their basements or spare rooms with a card table and lawn chair.
On top of that, these hastily fashioned “desks” had become covered with collections of odd assortments of things from home and work life. One friend on Facebook showed a bottle of ketchup on her home desk beside papers, pens and ear bugs (for Zoom calls). I have noticed at my own home desk (the card table variety), my space has become covered in cups and glasses and silverware next to notebooks and letters.
The home work space has unintentionally become a metaphor for the melding of work and home life. We can separate the activities of work and the activities of home better when they are in separate buildings. But when we bring them together, things can get a little messy on many levels.
That is when we need to turn to God and ask him for help to sort out our work and home activities.
One way to look at it is through this verse:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10
Take a look at each item on your “desk” and consider how each can be used as part of your workmanship at your job and/or at your home. If it is not part of the workmanship of either, then set it aside.
This helps to fulfill this verse from Scripture:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
Putting the work of God at work in us first and foremost will help us to continue our jobs and our personal activities in a more ordered fashion no matter where we are sitting.
Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Isaiah 1:18
Many of you have experienced monster snowstorms this winter, and often multiple snowstorms in a row. While the aftermath of such storms can be difficult and frustrated, several people reported to me recently that when the snow is coming down and their yards are being slowly covered over, the sight is beautiful and something they enjoyed watching. I was among those who enjoyed this experience when snow softly fell in St. Louis in mid-February.
“Why this response?” I wondered. I think it has something to do with the feeling of everything becoming fresh and new. There is a sense that all the world is clean and bright.
Isaiah must have known the comfort of freshly fallen snow when he compared it to the forgiveness of sins. When we take our sins to God, they are completely covered over like snowflake upon snowflake.
They say that no two snowflakes are alike, and in the kingdom of God, each word of forgiveness is unique to every sin, so that no sin is left uncovered by his grace and mercy through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.
So the next time you find yourself looking out at a snowfall, think of the blessings of forgiveness that fall down on us one by one every day and renew our lives with the beauty of this gift.
Opening the mailbox and discovering a surprise can make you feel as joyful as a kid on Christmas morning. Mail ministry embraces the emotional power of gifting by mail to help people feel valued, cared for and connected, and ultimately leads them closer to the Lord.
An age-old practice, as valuable as ever
For hundreds of years, a card or letter sent by mail has been an intimate way of letting a person know you care. To someone feeling isolated or struggling with the social, economic and emotional toll of the pandemic, a devotional booklet from church can serve as a sort of spiritual lifeline that can be seen and touched. It can help someone feel connected to our church community and guide them closer to the Lord through reflection and prayer.
Almost as important as the physical correspondence is the sentiment behind it. The act of sending a spiritual greeting or devotional expresses, “Your church family is thinking of you. You are a valued part of our community. You are special and worthwhile to us and to God.” Ministry by mail delivers a tangible spiritual resource along with intangible emotional benefits—feelings of support, encouragement and inclusion. Like the spiritual gifts Jesus gave through his ministry to the poor and forgotten, widows and children, lepers and Samaritans, our mail ministry gifts remind the receiver of their membership in the one body in Christ.
Share a tangible gift of hope
The idea of mail ministry is nothing new, but its value has come into sharp focus this past year. As churches respond to the unprecedented challenges of physical and social isolation due to COVID-19, many are rediscovering the remarkablepracticality of mail ministry. With a simple note or prayer card, pastors can share Christ’s love with the most vulnerable and isolated members of their community, effectively placing a memento of that love, like a tangible gift of hope, into the hands of those who aren’t making it into our pews or parking lots.
For elderly or homebound individuals, for whom isolation is not merely a temporary issue, mail ministry can be an ongoing spiritual life preserver. A devotional booklet can provide daily purpose, something new to read and think about each morning. Imagine the emotional benefits a homebound parishioner derives from looking forward to—and then receiving—the Advent or Lenten devotional your church reliably sends year after year. Of course, these blessings are secondary to the Greatest Gift of our Savior and the all-important relationship with him you are nurturing through the spiritual content you send.
It’s more affordable than you think
You can put a 48-page devotional booklet into the hands of a homebound parishioner for just under two dollars each, including shipping costs. The envelope will even be printed with your return address, so the recipient knows it’s a gift from you! Longtime ecumenical publisher Creative Communications for the Parish added drop ship service to its trusted lineup of church resources last summer to help churches minister amid the pandemic. You need only provide your mailing list (for one-time use only) and Creative does all the work for you.
Nudge them to unplug
Consider the value and accessibility of a held-in-hand message on paper versus an email message or link to online resources. In contrast to the continuous bombardment of digital messages that pass across our phones and computer screens each day, there’s a quiet comfort to a paper devotional. It appeals to the senses and allows us an opportunity to sit quietly with the material, away from the artificial light and constant pings of our screens. This calms our brain and body, clearing the way for mindful focus on reflection and prayer.
Personalize your message to make a lasting impression
Make an especially personal connection with a greeting card that shines God’s love on a parishioner celebrating a birthday, the parents of a newly baptized baby or a couple married in your church on their first anniversary. Sometimes, a simple “thinking of you” makes the biggest impression of all. Signed with a handwritten note from the pastor, a greeting card can become a treasured keepsake.
Don’t overlook youth ministry. For children and teens, whose interactions take place overwhelmingly via electronic messaging, a devotional booklet in hand can stand out as strongly as the message of Christ stands in radical juxtaposition to messages of popular culture.
Prayer cards, bookmarks and litanies can easily and inexpensively be sent by mail and are likely to get tucked into a Bible or book, where they will be kept and read repeatedly. Holidays and special occasions offer year-round opportunities to reach out. Which members of your flock are feeling most isolated right now? Begin there. Deliver some Good News to people desperately needing to hear it.
This post was written by guest blogger, Lisa Komp. Lisa is the Editorial Assistant at Creative Communications for the Parish. She has spent more than 20 years serving religious institutions in marketing and communications.
A big push in education these days is the emphasis on STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. According to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), “a common definition of STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.”
These four fields of study are growing exponentially and are areas in which our workforce needs to be enhanced. These are disciplines that we as a country were lacking in at times, but now we are matching where other countries are in these fields. It is a testament to the hard work of the educational administrators, teachers and students who helped our expertise and advancement in STEM grow.
The importance of STEM has come to light most recently with the development of vaccines for COVID and in the launching of manned rockets to the space station.
All of this expansion in STEM has led me to think about growth in the Church. What are the core tenets of the Church that need to be focused on more and enhanced? Here are my suggestions:
• Stewardship: The word stewardship itself can send a shiver down the spine of many a parishioner in the pew. The first thought associated with it is money. “They want my money.” But stewardship in the Church is much more, of course; it is the giving of our entire selves to the Lord. Money and offerings are just one part of it. Expressing our gratitude to God by giving of ourselves in many ways can be an emphasis that can enrich the concept of stewardship.
• Teaching: Many Sunday Schools and Bible studies have ended in the wake of the pandemic. But some classes still continue virtually and there can be a more concerted effort to make sure that people are still reached with the teachings of Jesus through such things as online sermon discussion groups after each Sunday service and daily devotions that go out to each member electronically.
• Evangelism: The thought of someone knocking on your door to tell you about Jesus can make even the most faithful believer wince a little. But evangelism does not only mean going door to door with the Gospel; it means just talking about your faith wherever you go with whomever you meet. It does not need to be a daunting task, but it is actually something that comes naturally to any follower of Christ. Helping people to feel more and more comfortable expressing their beliefs is a prime role of the Church that needs to be fostered more and more.
• Music: We are at a definitive crossroads in the Church regarding music. The days of hymnal music only in any service are dwindling fast, and the outbreak of rock-style contemporary music that is reaching the mainstream is exploding. Somewhere in the middle are the suburban and small-town churches that are doing a little of both traditional and contemporary and trying to balance the preferences of their parishioners at both ends of the spectrum. This can be a struggle, but the Church must make sure that the role of music remains central to worship in whatever form it takes and we must as church-goers be open to new options and experiences when it comes to making a joyful noise to the Lord.
May this STEM (Stewardship, Teaching, Evangelism and Music) of the Church flourish with God’s blessing.